Good Clean Fiber is our brand new subscription service delivering premium, washed, ready to process fleece right to your door. While we are incredibly proud of what we’ve created, we didn’t set out with the intention of changing the way that fleece is bought or creating a more direct link between fiber producers and users. Our goal – without trying to sound overly dramatic – was merely to find a way to survive.
Our family has been making fiber art equipment for nearly 50 years now, and our brand is recognized worldwide for creating innovative, long-lasting, and reliable tools. One downside to making equipment that in most cases last for more than one generation is that customers don’t need to make more than a few purchases from us in their lifetime. And although the fiber arts are currently in a boom cycle, we have seen the economic pendulum swing back and forth many times over the last half century. Some of those times we were able to weather the storm; other times we were forced to expand our offerings outside the world of fiber arts in order to keep employees busy rather than lay them off. Our business suffered greatly in both the post-9/11 economic downturn, as well at the financial crisis of 2008. At this point in time, we have no employees – our entire company is just the two of us – so our major concern looking forward is how to continue to support our family through the upcoming financial cycles – both in the broader economy and in our industry – that we know are inevitable. Our shop is currently setup to efficiently make fiber art equipment; re-tooling for other product lines as we did in the past – furniture components, skateboards, etc. – would remove those efficiencies that allow us to put out a relatively large volume of high quality equipment with just two guys. So, rather than diversifying outside of our industry, we looked within.
We researched offering a line of processed fiber, as a few other equipment makers do. There was even a turn-key dyed top operation for sale last year, but for a couple of guys who are used to making personal contact with each piece of equipment that goes out the door, the thought of letting someone else do the processing and quality control was a tough pill to swallow. In addition, the overall product wasn’t up to our standards. Have you ever really taken a close look at processed, dyed top? It is lifeless, devoid of the crimp and luster that we love so much about wool. Most tops are over-processed to the point that the fiber will tear down to about quarter-inch lengths. It wasn’t for us, and spending large amounts of capital just to imitate the big boys on the block would not accomplish our goals.
Next up, we looked at processing fiber in house. We could have squeezed a mill into our current buildings, but it would have been a tight fit. However, spending well into six figures to setup our own mill wasn’t in the budget, which also comes with it’s a lengthy learning curve. Likewise, we couldn’t have done it without adding at least one employee immediately. Again, our original premise was to find a way to ride out the financial waves – adding substantial amounts of capital and labor just to compete in an increasingly crowded market wasn’t what we were looking for.
So, it was back to the drawing board. Most people probably think of us as equipment makers, but we like to think of ourselves as problem solvers. One thing a problem solving mindset provides is a keen ear for hearing other people’s problems. As we thought together – on an ongoing basis over the last several years – about our concern for the future, we began to hear many of the same problems again and again from fiber artists and fiber producers.
Fiber artists – our customers, our students, and other fiber arts teachers – have a difficult time finding quality fiber from consistent or reliable sources, unknowingly purchase bad fiber frequently, and have access to only a limited number of fiber producers locally or at their local fiber fests. On top of that, once they buy a whole fleece – often much more fiber than they want – washing fleece is a major hurdle, often tying up the kitchen or bathtub for days on end, with drying fleece covering all available flat spots in the house or blowing away in the wind from a makeshift drying rack in the backyard. In class after class and on phone call after phone call, we listened to the lengthy (and often comical!) process our students and customers go through to wash wool, only to end up with unintentional felt projects more often than they dared to admit.
Most fiber producers pin their hopes for selling their clip – or an entire year’s shearing from their flock – on having good sales at their local fiber fest. This provides them with a limited set of customers in even the best of years, not to mention fatigue from a small custom base. If attendance at that one festival is down that year – it happens to rain that weekend, or the advertising budget for the festival gets cut – they’re now forced to choose between taking their wool back home or discounting it just to avoid doing so. It is difficult to imagine the heartbreak of working a whole year and having to decide between taking a severe pay cut or no paycheck at all. They can travel to more shows, join a co-op, or sell direct on the internet, but those options are all time intensive – taking the shepherd’s focus and attention away from their flock – while decreasing profit due to added expenses.
With the issues facing these two integral segments of our community in mind, the concept for Good Clean Fiber began to take shape. Rather than selling processed fiber – which would bypass the need for hand cards and drum cards, two of our bread and butter products – we would create a reliable source of fleece for customers who already purchased equipment from us. In addition, we would eliminate the bottleneck of washing fleece, a common issue we hear from beginners to seasoned veterans alike. Likewise, by making fleece available in smaller, project-sized amounts, we eliminate waste and make the task of purchasing fleece less daunting. By purchasing in bulk – often an entire clip – we can eliminate the cost (both time and dollars) of marketing for the shepherds, freeing up their time while still allowing them to earn a fair price for their labor. As either a buyer or seller of fleece, both groups have now a reliable partner – that they most likely have already done business with at some point – that has served the fiber arts community for almost fifty years.
Head to Good Clean Fiber for subscription pricing and availability.
You can also check out these blog posts on Good Clean Fiber: How Good Clean Fiber Works and How Good Clean Fiber is Changing the Way Fleece is Bought and Sold.